Senior civilian Mountie rebukes RCMP Commissioner for ‘appalling’ behaviour during Nova Scotia shooting investigation

Lia Scanlan, former director of strategic communications for the RCMP in Halifax, testifies at the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry in Truro, N.S., on June 8.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

A senior civilian Mountie sent a strongly worded letter to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki last year, accusing her of bowing to political pressure and displaying “unprofessional and extremely belittling” behaviour to officers investigating the worst mass shooting in Canadian history.

The Mass Casualty Commission, which is conducting an inquiry into the April, 2020, killing of 22 people in Nova Scotia, on Tuesday released the rebuke from Lia Scanlan, a former director of strategic communications for the RCMP in Halifax.

In the letter, dated April 14, 2021, Ms. Scanlan backs up Superintendent Darren Campbell’s account of a meeting in which he said Commissioner Lucki tried to push her Nova Scotia commanders to publicly release details about the weapons used in the shootings to bolster the federal government’s gun-control agenda.

She recounted the April 28, 2020, conference call with senior Nova Scotia RCMP members – just 10 days after the shootings – and upbraided Commissioner Lucki for suggesting during the conversation that Nova Scotia Mounties had “let down” two boys whose parents were killed by the gunman because they would not release information about the firearms.

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She wrote that the Commissioner spoke about “the pressures” and conversations she had with then-public safety minister Bill Blair related to “the upcoming passage of gun legislation.”

Ms. Scanlan wrote: “I remember a feeling of disgust as I realized this was the catalyst for the conversation and perhaps a justification for what you were saying about us.”

She said the officers were focused on the victims of the shootings and were taken aback when their superior berated them for refusing to release the details, as she had instructed them to do.

“The political lens was not our sole focus,” she wrote, adding that she could not believe what the RCMP leader was saying, “and I was embarrassed to be privy to what was unfolding.”

“It was appalling, inappropriate, unprofessional and, extremely belittling,” she wrote.

Commissioner Lucki confirmed on Tuesday that she received the letter from Ms. Scanlan, but said she did not interfere in the criminal investigation at the behest of the Liberal government. She acknowledged, however, that she did not handle the meeting very well.

“I regret the effects my words had on those involved in the meeting,” she said in a statement. “However, I want to re-emphasize that I did in no way seek to interfere in the ongoing investigation, nor did I feel any political pressure to do so.”

In her letter, Ms. Scanlan said she objected to revealing the types of guns used in the shootings because the victims’ families had not yet been informed and she wanted to “prevent them from being revictimized by hearing new information from the media.”

Four pages of notes from Supt. Campbell’s investigative file were released last week, triggering a day of parliamentary hearings next month into potential political interference in a police investigation.

The notes allege that during the conference call, Commissioner Lucki berated Supt. Campbell when he refused to prematurely release details of the weapons. She told her officers she had promised the “Minister of Public Safety and the Prime Minister’s Office” that the RCMP would reveal what kinds of firearms were used to support the government’s gun-control proposals.

Supt. Campbell said in his notes that he did not want to release those details because the RCMP were working with U.S. authorities on the case and doing so might have jeopardized the investigation. Three of the weapons had been smuggled in from Maine.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said no “undue influence or pressure” was put on the Commissioner. Mr. Blair, now Emergency Preparedness Minister, has also denied pressing Commissioner Lucki to help build the case to ban 1,500 types of firearms.

Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho said on Tuesday evidence is mounting that Commissioner Lucki faced intensive political pressure to do the government’s bidding.

“All accounts of the meeting suggest the Commissioner was angry, emotional and appeared to be acting out in desperation. This was no doubt the reaction of a woman who was being placed under immense pressure and may have even feared for her job,” she said.

Ms. Dancho noted that Mr. Trudeau had tried to bully former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to interfere in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

“The consequences women can face for saying ‘no’ and speaking truth to this Prime Minister couldn’t have been lost on Commissioner Lucki – the stronger the backbone, the shorter the career for women,” the MP said.

In previous testimony, Ms. Scanlan told the investigation that federal officials, including Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Blair, “were weighing in on what we could and couldn’t say” during media briefings about the shootings.

The transcript of her remarks was heavily redacted in some sections before its release, so some details of the testimony remain secret.

At another point, she talked about Commissioner Lucki’s conduct and attributed it to “political pressure,” adding, “That is 100 per cent Minister Blair and the Prime Minister.”

She then told investigators: “We have a Commissioner that does not push back.”

Meanwhile, the federal Justice Department said it turned over a further 17 pages of RCMP investigative files on Friday to the Mass Casualty Commission. Emily Hill, senior counsel for the commission, said some were filed as exhibits on Tuesday and others are still being reviewed for relevance and other issues.

Justice Department spokesperson Ian McLeod said another three pages are still being reviewed to determine if they should be disclosed to the inquiry.

He said department lawyers had initially withheld 35 pages and turned over 12 documents to the commission on May 30, including Supt. Campbell’s four pages of notes.

Mr. McLeod said the office of Justice Minister David Lametti had no say in the decision to withhold the documents, as Justice Department lawyers routinely review such material for cabinet confidences, solicitor-client privilege and other personal information.

The commission has demanded to know why Ottawa withheld any documents after it subpoenaed the RCMP’s entire investigative file last June.

Ms. Dancho has accused the government of engaging in a cover-up. She wants Mr. Lametti to appear before the Commons public safety and national security committee next month to explain what happened.

The committee voted last Thursday to hold a hearing in July and call Commissioner Lucki and other Mounties involved in the April 28, 2020, discussion. The committee also wants to hear from Mr. Blair.

NDP public safety critic Alistair MacGregor said the Trudeau government has a pattern of interference into institutions that are supposed to be independent and also called for expanded Parliamentary hearings.

“The idea that the government would seek to influence and take advantage of the worst mass-shooting in Canadian history for political gain is wrong and it erodes public trust in our institutions,” Mr. MacGregor said. “It’s beyond inappropriate for the RCMP to be serving the Liberals’ political interests.”

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